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“Trump’s Continued Descent into the Middle East Maelstrom: The Caesar Act’s Impact on Lebanon and Iraq: Egypt Inching To War on Two fronts: Libya and Ethiopia.” Tuesday, June 30, 2020. KGNU: Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues – Segment 3

July 12, 2020

Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Ethiopia’s Pride; Egypt’s Albatross

KGNU Hemispheres – June 30, 2020 – Transcript…Part Three (Part One) (Part Two)

(This segment looks at the growing controversy – and danger of military conflict – between Ethiopia and Egypt over Ethiopia’s filling its recently completed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. It also explores a possible Israeli connection given that country’s fresh water needs. At the time of writing, the issue remains unresolved with a heightened danger of the conflict escalating)

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For Egypt, the existential threat concerning the Nile waters hasn’t changed; the variable that has changed is the inability of the United States to be able to pull strings and bring the parties together and impose a solution upon them. For Egypt, the existential threat concerning the Nile waters hasn’t changed; the variable that has changed is the inability of the United States to be able to pull strings and bring the parties together and impose a solution upon them.

Ibrahim Kazerooni

The point of all this – there is substantial evidence strongly suggesting that Israel is in something close to a panic about pre-emptively – before a war with Lebanon breaks out – securing its supply of fresh water and that it is plausible that Israel is offering the Ethiopians very generous terms for some of its water. It is not at all unreasonable – as a result of this pressure for water – to conclude that in some manner, Israel is involved in these machinations.

Rob Prince

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Rob Prince: Let’s move on to Egypt’s other problem, Ibrahim, and that is the struggle over the waters of the Nile River between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in the northwest corner of Ethiopia.

For starters, Jim Nelson’s opening about Colorado knowing about “water wars” is quite apt. Colorado has had “water wars” with the states to our southwest over the waters of the Colorado River, and others with states going east over controlling the flows of the Arkansas and Platte rivers.This kind of tension over which northeast African state is going to control the flow of the Nile – this is an absolutely Colorado issue as well.

The bottom line was this: as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was being completed the question emerged as to what is going to happen to the downstream flows of water. We’re looking at one particular branch of the Nile, the Blue Nile the origins of which are in Ethiopia. The dam could divert a significant amount of water from the two countries downstream, in this case, to the north of the dam, Sudan and Egypt.

The upstream country is Ethiopia

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was completed recently after nine years of construction and at a cost of $4.7 billion. Ethiopia plans to start filling the dam in the next few weeks, a decision which has angered Egypt because no agreement has been reached regarding the distribution of the waters downstream. Besides providing water for Ethiopian agriculture, the dam will be an important source of electrical energy for the whole country.

Ethiopia is only 38% electrified and it appears that it is the production of electrical power which is more central to the dam’s existence than its use as a water source. Upon completion the dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa, capable of generating up to 6,400 megawatts of power. The electricity produced will be fed into the Ethiopian national power grid which in turn is expected to stimulate the country’s economic development.

The dam’s completion is also – and rightly so – a source of great national pride, literally the symbol of the nation’s future development hopes. Ethiopia’s pride has become Egypt’s albatross.

While Sudan is involved, the main dam related tension these past years has been between Egypt and Ethiopia. Keep in mind that Egypt is a largely desert state located downstream from the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Over 90% of its water supply comes from the Nile River for its households and irrigation for agriculture. As such, like any downstream nation, it finds itself quite vulnerable to to changes in water flow upstream. The completion and opening of the dam could divert significant water flows from the downstream countries, Sudan and Egypt.

This is not a new issue for those involved. The negotiations between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have been going on for ten years in different formats and locations, including Washington D.C. Up until recently it appears that the countries involved were going to come to some kind of an agreement. Although the details of the agreement were not made public, press reports suggested that the waters would be shared relatively equally between the three countries. Different sources suggested last minute problems; the Egyptians wanted the Ethiopians to delay filling the dam with water; there were reports that the Ethiopians wanted a greater share of the water for their national development.

In any case, no agreement was reached.

It’s a bit odd that after so much time and energy that went into the negotiations that at the last minute the talks broke down with no agreement.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Can I interject for a moment. Rob is correct. Early on every one was talking about some kind of equitable agreement between the parties and it is also true that the Ethiopians stepped back from the process.

But the finer details of the early agreement was never released so there is speculation as to just what the division of the waters would be. But certainly there was a working agreement and all parties were hopeful that the situation could be amicably resolved. Suddenly the Ethiopians stepped back from the negotiations and took a hard line visavis the distribution of water.

It reminded me – I discussed this with Rob – of the negotiations between the Sudanese government in Khartoum and southern Sudan prior to Southern Sudan declaring independence. Just prior to Southern Sudan breaking away from the North, it appeared that the two sides were close to a power sharing agreement over the question of independence as well as the distribution of oil and natural gas profits. Much of Sudan’s oil wealth is in the south.

The South Sudanese suddenly withdrew from the negotiations resulting in a political breakdown and armed conflict.

Later on it was revealed that the Southern Sudanese withdrew from the negotiations because the Israelis got involved, pressured the South Sudanese that they should not renegotiate with the north, that the South Sudanese should insist on complete control of the oil reserves in their territory. The Israelis promised to bring in their technology and know-how to develop the oil field because part of the negotiations with the north included stipulations that the north would provide such expertise.

Exactly that happened.

Immediately after the declaration of independence of South Sudan, its president travelled to Tel Aviv. Within a week Israeli energy companies were working in South Sudan developing the field.

I began to investigate whether Israel’s hand is involved in the Ethiopian dam case as well. A few facts came to light: Israeli ambitions to acquire water from the Nile go back to as far as 1903!

Theodore Herzel laid out the first proposal: He suggested that some part of the Nile waters be diverted towards Israeli settlements and land because they did not have enough water. That plan was rejected by both the Egyptians and British at the time.

The idea was reintroduced at the time of the October, 1973 Middle East War again. Again the Egyptians rejected such a plan but it was presented once again in 1978 when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel. To the Israeli public he announced that he would transfer some part of the Nile water to (Israel’s) Negev Desert. But that never happened.

The idea of transferring some of the Nile waters to Israel through some kind of pipeline is not new. Most of Israeli drinking water comes from its desalination plants.

I believe that the Israelis are pushing the Ethiopians not to negotiate with the Egyptians and they are prepared to pay a huge sum for Ethiopian Nile water and the construction of the corresponding pipeline. It transpired that in 2016 the Saudis purchased two islands in the entrance to the Red Sea at the Gulf of Aqaba from Egypt, Sanafir and Tiran, for which they paid about $5.5 billion.

It now appears that the Saudis are going to lease those two islands to the Israelis, which would facilitate using the islands as intermediary stations that could connect Ethiopian water to Israel via the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba to the Negev Desert.

The problem now is that Ethiopia is being influenced by the Israelis in effort that, beyond the water issue, has geo-political ramifications: to destabilize Egypt, Sudan because the Israelis believe they find themselves now facing an existential threat visavis their water supply, particularly if a future war develops with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Rob, you want to add anything.

Rob Prince: Yes, I want to add a few points, especially where it concerns Israel and water. The search for water has been an unending drama for Israel. Part of the reason that Israel seized the Golan Heights was to gain control of the Banias Spring, one of the three major sources of the Jordan River. A goal of the Israeli incursions into Lebanon was to control the waters of the Litani River in southern Lebanon and the sweet waters that flow from that.

Israel was unable to divert the Litani River waters because of their defeat at the hands of Hezbollah in 2006.

There is no question that Israel has experiences a kind of angst over its supply of water and has done everything in its power to increase that supply.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Can I interject here for a moment?

After the Israelis were kicked out of Lebanon in 2000 Hezbollah through its engineering expertise, discovered underground pipelines from the Litani River to northern Israel that had been laid sometime after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. The Israelis were stealing Lebanese water from the Litani River during the 1982 invasion and afterwards.

Rob Prince: Let’s add this to the equation

Over the past years the tensions between Hezbollah in S. Lebanon and Israel have continued. Today there is a kind of asymmetrical balance of forces between them. But a key development has been Hezbollah’s ability to develop sophisticated missile technology. Not that long ago Hezbollah announced publicly that should Israel attack Lebanon that there are a number of targets within Israel that Hezbollah consider primary targets and intends to strike in return. One of those targets is Israel’s desalination plants.

Interesting reading about Hezbollah. Read about it in the USA and the news describes them in some terrible or nonsensical manner but who is that takes Hezbollah seriously? High level Israeli military officials and Israeli intelligence and my sense is that these Israeli defense and intelligence systems listen to the speeches of Nasrallah (leader of Hezbollah) more closely than we do and take his comments seriously.

When Nasrallah comes out and threatens, in response to a major Israeli military offensive against Lebanon, that Hezbollah will target Israel’s desalination plant – and Israel knows that they, Hezbollah have the means and technological know-how to do it, that they have the exact coordinates – the Israeli leadership takes those comments dead seriously.

The point of all this – there is substantial evidence strongly suggesting that Israel is in something close to a panic about pre-emptively – before a war with Lebanon breaks out – securing its supply of fresh water and that it is plausible that Israel is offering the Ethiopians very generous terms for some of its water. It is not at all unreasonable – as a result of this pressure for water – to conclude that in some manner, Israel is involved in these machinations.

That’s the first point.

Beyond that, we need to examine the relations between upstream and downstream countries on the Nile River. For Egypt, the Nile is life itself. That is not just a cliché. Take away a significant portion of the water of the Nile from Egypt and its agriculture collapses, the whole society is thrown into chaos. It is unlikely that Egypt is going to concede much on this issue.

I don’t think it will.

As for Ethiopia, it is the midst of a process of economic development in many ways, very positive, hopeful for the most part despite some bumps along the way. Of course it wants to use especially the water from this dam, but also the water, to fuel this development. At a certain point, the Ethiopians need to look at both their short term and their long term interests. Their long-term interests are – that they are connected by an umbilical chord called the Nile River to Egypt and therefore to resolve their difference with Egypt diplomatically.

The concern now among the Ethiopians – I’m hearing it from Ethiopian friends here in Denver – is that to halt the realization of the project, that Egypt might bomb the dam. I certainly hope the situation doesn’t come to a military conflict but it is a possibility. With that in mind, it is important, vital even, that Ethiopia and Egypt get back to the negotiating table together and find some common ground.

One last point here. The conflict over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is yet another indication of the United States’ decline in influence, its growing weakness globally.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Exactly.

Up to a few years ago, such disagreements would be settled in Washington. Up to (deposed Egyptian President) Mohammed Morsi’s time in power – the Egyptian major general, Mohammed Ali Bellal, Egypt’s Deputy Chief of Staff, was looking to Washington to resolve the Ethiopian dam issue. Bellal was quoted as saying that “the only solution [to the dam issue] lies in the U.S. intervening to alleviate the impact of the dam on Egypt.

In the same vein, Morsi went on to add, “We will take very serious measures to protect every drop of the Nile Water.”

For Egypt, the existential threat concerning the Nile waters hasn’t changed; the variable that has changed is the inability of the United States to be able to pull strings and bring the parties together and impose a solution upon them. For Egypt, the existential threat concerning the Nile waters hasn’t changed; the variable that has changed is the inability of the United States to be able to pull strings and bring the parties together and impose a solution upon them.

 

 

One Comment leave one →
  1. Gene Fitzpatrick permalink
    July 15, 2020 7:16 pm

    In the very last sentence of this informative article, one might substitute the word ‘variable’ with the words ‘fortunate thing’. Can you imagine Jared and Pompeo presiding over negotiations designed to effect a wise, just and humanity beneficial outcome to this peril-laden issue.

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